Decoding human behavior on the playground

What are the causes of human behavior?

I’ve spent a lot of time studying and reading about this topic, from multiple perspectives.

Why do I care?

Why don’t you care?

To understand human behavior means to understand your own behavior. It means you have a grounded rationale for action. It means you “make sense.”

The “modern” perspectives on human behavior (“nature,” “nurture,” “humanist,” “utilitarian,” “evo-bio,” etc.) are interpretations funneled through popular reasoning.

…at the beginning. There’s this thing called a human organism – a collection of organs (and other organisms) that developed over the course of 4.6 billion years (or maybe just since the Carboniferous revolution 356 mya).

The interaction of the elements of the earth’s crust, the earth itself (its magnetic iron core), the relationship with its moon, and energy from the sun, all created a thin film of activity on the surface of the earth.

The first activity was based on “anaerobic” metabolism. The activity of those animals created a bunch of oxygen, resulting in the Great Oxygenation Event 2.4 billion years ago, and the evolution of animals that used oxygen for motoring around and eating and/or incorporating other things.

Mammals popped up in the mix, and started wreaking all kinds of havoc – bearing live offspring (not eggs), adapting well to different habitats thanks to warm-bloodedness, fur, etc.

Behavior is mitigated by natural demands, shaped over eons, passed down through selected genetics and behavioral example. For the most part it’s a simple matter of supply and demand…basic competition for resources. Lots of resources means low competition. Other things start to happen with all that free time.

Happy accident of happy accidents, the apes came out of the trees. Being able to access two environments means more opportunity. As the head is positioned upright, the vocal chords change, allowing for a greater range of sounds. As the hands are freed they can do other things…even while walking around! And all of that new input means a bigger processor. More brains. Tools can be made for special uses.

What dominates behavior is the social unit. The tribe, the pack. The need for leadership and hierarchy. It’s partly genetically, and partly environmentally (pack- and nature-environment) determined. The strong ones in packs will tend to assert themselves, because they can. If left alone, not needing to assert themselves, they may not.

As the animal develops further, the ties that work well are strengthened. Social hierarchy achieves a safer outcome, especially against other tribes. It’s the old “in-group/out-group” behavior coming ’round again. Division of labor means more free time for all, since everyone doesn’t have to do everything all the time. The specialists get better and better at their skills and become Trades…it’s worth it to seek them out, to trade for their skill at the task.

As the group grows in size and scope, it needs more rules to maintain order. When it passes a certain size, it needs Laws. And there has to be a Reason to follow the laws. So they make up Morality, and Gods, and Demons, and Manners, and Fashion, and many other things.

Now the populace is easily controlled. But beneath the aerobic system likes a heart of stone, still pulled by the magnetic core of the earth. Beneath the veneer of civil morality (blamed on God, Nation, Fashion, Manners, or whatever) lies an animal seeking opportunity for resources.

You notice this most when things get tough…i.e., when resources get scarce (or are perceived as being scarce). The Civil Monsters become Uncivil (though still define their actions as Civil ones…they are, after all the Civil Monsters), and etc. down the line of exigencies (Fashion Monsters, God Monsters, etc.).

Blame blame blame, when at base, there’s only need to satisfy (perceived) demand for resources. Simple.

Now what works is to appeal to the perceived-need or -demand. It has become a trade unto itself…and its most of what anyone trades at all anymore.

I had to write this post after several visits to the playground with my 1 year old son. All of these things are exposed so much more readily there…they haven’t been trained to behave in accordance with different reasons. So one notices that there is no such thing as “sharing” in children under the age of 2. It’s really more a matter of interest of loss of interest (which is related to attentional focus, which is related to the perceived supply of “interesting things”).

The parents on the playground are even very honest about this – “We’re still working on the ‘sharing’ thing,” they’ll remark with a grin.

Yes, yes, you are…

But why?

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Animal = Oxygen Pump

Here’s a weird story:
Once there was a giant ball of stardust. A crust formed over its molten iron core.

Some stuff started happening on that crust. The elements were just right for interesting combinations of molecules. They started to move on their own, looking for other molecules to bind to, absorb, or use (like tools).

A long time later, all of those molecules had created a ton of gas that had filled the vacuum around the ball of molten iron. An interaction with solar energy made a thin film at the top of the gas, which held it in place.

When there was enough of that gas to seem useful, a combination of molecules formed that used this gas to pump energy into itself. They began “using” that gas as a “tool.”

This strategy turned out to be a good one. It made a lot more energy a lot more quickly. The new combo was faster, more able…it began to replicate. It began to grow, morph, adapt to new environments.

Within it still carried The Old Way. The non-gas way.

Here’s Another Story
First there were the Stone Giants. They ruled the earth.

Then the gods came down from Heaven (maybe on a chariot of sunlight, or a lightning bolt), and conquered those stone giants.

When they fought, the stone giants splintered apart, and part of them embedded itself in the gods. It could not be removed.

Or How About This One (my favorite)…
When people are native to a place, they have literally sprung up from the earth in that place.

We call them, Autochthonous.

Judaic Version
“By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”
(Genesis 3:19)

The Point
All of these stories tell the same tale – that humans come from stardust first, and dirt, second…and that the mechanics of “dirt” still occupy the core of our being. (Did I forget to mention that the center of the heme molecule is an atom of iron?).

In exercise physiology we rely heavily on these stories. The “Old Way” is the anaerobic way. The first way of “life” on this planet. The “New Way” is aerobic – more efficient. But we rely heavily on the anaerobic way (those of us who do things…). An “animal” is simply an oxygen pump.

Why is it important?

Because ultimately the distinction we make between “organic” matter and “inorganic” matter is arbitrary.

It can be a useful distinction, but only as long as remain aware that it is an arbitrary one.

This may be the last prejudice that the human animal will have to overcome, because it’s a hard one – there is no difference between an “animal” and “inorganic” material.

The difference is one that we’ve ascribed ourselves. So of course it puts us in a “higher” position. But does a stone “use” water to degrade itself and leach its components into the soil, enriching the soil, which is then taken up by a plant that incorporates those elements, which in turn is eaten by an animal which incorporates those elements, which in turn dies and degrades, and is reincorporated by the stone (whose “blood” is called “time” and whose “movement” is called “pressure”)?

Does it do that?

Reminds me of a song:

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